Whenever I go somewhere that features a lot of visual information, I always look to see if there are audio description services available so that I can get information about my surroundings. Unlike closed captioning, which is required by law in public places and for TV programming by the FCC, audio description is not required by law, and it can be hard to find sometimes. However, whenever I get to use it, I have found it helps me tremendously. Today, I will be answering the who, what, when, where, and whys of descriptive audio.
Audio description is most commonly used by people with blindness and low vision. People with photosensitive conditions may also benefit from using it, and the same goes for people who are consuming media in a foreign language. Audio description helps to answer questions as to what is going on, and why, providing important contextual information.
Audio description, sometimes referred to as descriptive audio or described video, is an additional narrator track that provides visual information for people who otherwise would not be able to see it. Audio description may be provided live by a narrator or pre-recorded ahead of time. Assistive listening devices (ALDs), which are about the size of a cell phone, play audio description tracks and are provided by the places that use them at no charge.
Descriptive audio is becoming more and more common, and can be found in the following locations:
According to the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, Title III, people with disabilities legally cannot be charged more for requiring accommodations in public places. What is legal is charging a deposit or asking for an ID in order to receive an audio description device. This is to ensure the device is not stolen or broken. The most expensive deposit I have ever seen for a device is $25.
Some examples of lines that might be said when creating audio description include:
If visiting a place that provides descriptive audio services, I recommend stopping by guest services or similar after entering and inquiring about how to receive an audio description device. There may be a line at some events, so I recommend getting there a bit early and being prepared to take up to fifteen minutes to receive a device. While at the counter, make sure the device is configured for audio description and not closed captioning- this happened to me once and I had to go get the device reset by staff since I could not fix it on my own.
In the United States, a standard logo for audio description was created that is placed next to movie and event titles that feature the service, near the closed captioning logo. It also can be found under the accessibility information page of websites, or on signs at events. Some places may require advance notice to provide descriptive audio services but again, it’s not legal for users to be charged for receiving them.
Audio description is just one of many assistive technology tools that help people with vision impairment be included in activities. Accessibility has exploded in recent years and it is now easier than ever to go to the movies, a play, performing arts event, museum, theme park, or sporting event, and not feel like sticking out because of vision impairment. I am thankful for audio description services and will continue to use them whenever I can.